The art of political debate still has good conditions in Denmark.
In two days, Denmark will go to the polls and, most likely, elect a new government. With the myriad of small parties, the exact constellation is very much unknown, but it seems quite clear that the current centre-right coalition will be replaced by a centre-left coalition. Whether this means any real change is a different matter, for Denmark is a country of conformity, grand coalitions, and economic and political stability.
Even though we have far-right extremists and other loonies running for parliament, and some might even enter, the main image of the past month’s debate is one of consensus, even joviality. This is heartening, as other countries descend into political anarchy.
Not to say that the parties cannot disagree, even vehemently so. The art of political debate has strong roots here, giving almost a festival mood as hopeful candidates try to make their sound bites stand out in the frenzy.
Framing and owning the story
The art of political debate has many facets. One of them is loaded questions. Framing the questions gives you the advantage, which is why you will almost never hear candidates say yes or no.
An example of a loaded question is, “How much more will you spend on daycare?” This plays to the highest bidder, and nearly everyone will try their best to spend the most of (our) money. More interesting questions to me would be, e.g., “What should politicians not interfere in?” or “How should Denmark improve in 10 years, and how will we know if we were successful?”
To counter the bidding war tactic, a few parties have, with limited success, attempted to pose the question, “Where does the money come from?”, i.e., how do we ensure economic growth? But this drowns as the major parties engage in gift-giving (beware the Greeks).
Another classic in political debates is owning the story. The left-leaning parties have with some success spread the sentiment that only they care about the welfare of people, whereas the right side of the spectrum are greedy and only in it for the power. (Wake-up call: Nobody chooses a career in Danish politics for the money.) On the other side, the right-leaning parties have owned caring for the country and its culture, worrying about the threat of immigration.
In both cases, framing the supposedly dangerous opinions of the opponent is a common tactic. In reality, I am convinced they all want what they believe is best for the country.
The media play a crucial role in ensuring a sound debate. And with owned media (blogs, social media, etc.), there is a potential and a risk that candidates bypass actual dialogue and just shout from their own platform. At least on the extremes.
The good thing is that the public service channels (DR), despite leaning slightly to the left themselves, have taken their role seriously and promoted actual exchanges of ideas and positive dialogue.
On Wednesday, I will still vote for a party on the centre-right axis. But I am encouraged to know that a large majority of voters in Denmark are fairly well-informed and don’t want any extremes. And they will vote in high numbers to ensure the stability and consensus that we have come to take for granted. Happy voting.